The Supreme Court’s judgment on Wednesday striking down a provision of the Representation of People Act that allowed convicted politicians and elected members of legislature to continue in their office is a wonderful development. Hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) from Lily Thomas and Lok Prahari Foundation, that challenged the sub-section (4) of Section 8 of the RP Act on the ground that it allowed criminally convicted politicians and elected members of both the Parliament and the various state assemblies to carry on with their government position by appealing or getting a stay order against the conviction, a bench comprising Justices AK Patnaik and SJ Mukhopadhaya of the apex court declared the said provision ultra vires, thus making the members with criminal background ineligible to hold on to their chairs. India has an appalling figure when it comes to the number of political figures with criminal histories. This is especially relevant in the context of the numbers of MPs and MLAs with self-declared criminal cases, with almost 30 per cent (1,460 out of 4,807) of the elected members occupying various levels of the legislature having a dodgy past, incriminated by the court of law. Furthermore, another 30 per cent of the Lok Sabha MPs (162 out of 543) have such cases pending, or having reached conviction, thus attesting to the abysmal level to which the national and regional politics have sunk. The SC order is, therefore, a fresh lease of life for Indian politics that has been festering under rampant criminalisation, with corruption and nepotism becoming synonymous with day-to-day affairs of the national polity.
In another case, the apex court’s advice to Tata Motors to return the 400 acres of land in Singur out of the 997 acres that they had bought from the previous West Bengal government in 2007, is also welcome news. Hearing a plea of the WB government challenging the quashing of the Singur Land Acquisition Act by the Calcutta High Court, the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the company to stand clear on its leasehold rights over the land, as Tata Motors has already moved its car plant out of the state. Many corporate houses have the tendency to buy off government-owned land at throw away prices and then sell them off to realty developers or use those lands to different and profitable ends. By directing Tata Motors to consider returning the land, the Court has taken a commendable step that could ensure the return of massive land holdings that have been unscrupulously purchased or retained by big business houses and corporate interest groups. By returning the said land to the farmers and the original agriculturalists would set an example and would make the significance of passing the landmark Land acquisition Act widely felt across the political board. The West Bengal government has been persistent in its efforts to return the land that had been acquired from farmers and land labourers by the Left front government in 2007, causing the huge agitations of Singur, Nandigram the same year. In fact, the Calcutta High Court’s striking down the Singur Land rehabilitation and Development Act of 2011 that allowed the WB government to reclaim 400 acres from Tata Motors was a questionable verdict that the Supreme Court has been right to contradict and overrule.